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Photo by Clayton Cotterell

Varik Harris ’19


Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

How Reed changed me: Before coming to Reed, I didn’t know there were nongendered pronouns, that I was more than an ACT score or a GPA, or that you could go to a small liberal arts college and do research that most people think can only be done at a huge state school. Reed humbled me, increased my self-confidence to new levels, and taught me my worth—how I should be respected by others and how I should respect them.

Financial aid: Without financial aid, I never would have been able to attend Reed. Reed was the most expensive place I applied and was accepted to, yet at the end of the day, ended up being the cheapest school for me to attend. Thank you to the people that make all of this possible. A special thank-you to the family of Taliesin Namkai-Meche ’16. The support from the scholarship in your son’s name was greatly appreciated in my final year.

Thesis adviser: Prof. Kelly Chacón [chemistry]

Thesis: Copper? I Barely Know Her! A Study of Possible Cu Chaperone Proteins for the CuA Center of Cytochrome C Oxidase

What it’s about: Cytochrome C oxidase is a protein necessary for aerobic energy production in both single- and multicellular organisms. There are two copper atoms in a subunit of it called “copper A” needed for energy production. Nobody knows how they get there, so I am trying to discern the proteins responsible for helping transport them.

What it’s really about: Copper A is needed for energy production, but nobody knows how the copper gets there. That’s where I come in.

Influential professor: I never thought I would cry in my thesis advisor’s office, and I did. Kelly Chacón told me, “You know, sometimes life gives you a shit sandwich and holds the bread, but it’s what you do next that matters.” She taught me the importance of self-care and being able to keep pushing forward when things are stacked against you.

Influential book: On the Nature of Things by Lucretius.

Concept that blew my mind: Scientists generally agree that there are more bacteria and microbiota in you than there are human cells, or that the numbers are about even. Let that sink in.

Cool stuff: KRRC, the Quest, Beer Nation, using the particle accelerator at Stanford for my thesis. I worked for the admission office leading tours and interviewing prospective students, and made coursework for the chemistry department showing how organic chemistry has benefited minorities.

Challenges I faced: My dad was hospitalized with a bacterial infection and had heart surgery while I was on spring break. It was the first time all the biochemistry floating around in my brain was used in a way that could help others. I had a conversation with my mom about what the doctors were doing and why and how they would use the information to proceed. It felt great, and I think it helped her and the rest of my family not worry as much.

What’s next: Being an admission counselor at Reed while helping out with research at Reed.

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